“ Address: H. Colegio Militar # 17-D / San Miguel de Allende / Mexico „
San Miguel de Allende is one expensive town. I like to travel reasonably cheaply, but I also like hotels, and usually think they warrant the extra pennies difference between them or staying in a hostel <<shudder>>. Unfortunately SMA has no budget hotels, and so I was destined to stay in a hostel <<shudder>> for my night in town (I'm gonna stop saying <<shudder>> but try to imagine it every time you read the word hostel, because that's what I'm thinking).
I found the hostel through Hostelbookers but then googled it and found it had a short webpage of its own. It looked not too horrendous, so I booked a private double room, through Hostelbookers so as to get the Quidco cashback. Because I was travelling alone but booking a double room, I had to pay for two people, which was a total of £21.76 (meaning a whole 78p cashback). That's when the fun started. Hostelbookers took a deposit of £2.18 (10%) and quoted me the remainder (that I would pay on arrival) in US dollars, more than a little random for a Mexican hostel. Remember this fact, for it will be important later in the story.
I arrived in SMA at lunchtime but had only a small daypack with me, so didn't go straight to the hostel. I wandered the cobbled streets, had some food, did a little shopping and then approached Iron House at about 4.30pm, which I thought was a rather reasonable time to arrive. It was easy to find the hostel, which is about 10 minutes walk north of the centre. The door was a massive red iron affair, and the hostel's name was clearly visible, but you had no idea what would lurk behind that door. It took me a few moments to find the bell, and when it rang I waited for another few moments for someone to come and let me in. This was the infamous Ricardo, about whom I had read many wonderful things on various hostel review sites, but he didn't immediately enamour himself to me. This was because as soon as we'd walked through and up the stairs to the lounge, he asked a favour of me. He was terribly sorry, but people had arrived yesterday and really wanted to stay, and of course he knew I had made a booking for a private room, but would I mind terribly sharing a dorm room with 3 boys? Yeah, that was not going to happen. I apologised, but stood firm that this was a "vacation" for me, and I really did not want to share. I had booked a private room wanting just that, and was paying the full price for it, so it's not like he would be losing money. He sighed and said he understood. That was problem one. Problem two was that he'd given my actual room to a French couple (their nationality was repeated several times - apparently it was important to the story). They had arrived the night before and would not leave it, so though I could have my own room, it would, rather randomly, be a 4 bunk bedded room. I could have made a fuss, but knowing that on a public holiday my chances of finding anywhere else to stay in the city, regardless of cost, would be impossible, I agreed, and off he went to move the boys' bags out, and make up a bed for me.
While he was doing this, I had a quick nosy round. The hostel is small, but on several floors in what appears to be an old converted colonial house, so it has a lot of nice character, as is typical of places in Mexico's colonial heartland. The living room area was comfy with a sofa, a large television, and a free interneted computer for residents' use. To one side of this room was the kitchen area, which was better equipped than any other hostel kitchen I've come across, and also had a real Mexican charm to it - I'd go so far as to say it reminded me of Frida Kahlo's kitchen in her house in Coyoacan. The fridge was large and mostly empty, though I think this was probably due to the lack of a decent supermarket in the town centre. Free drinking water was provided, which I took advantage of - you can drink the tap stuff here, whatever anyone says, but when the filtered kind is available for free, I will generally go for that.
Ricardo gave me a key for my room and, having checked the boys didn't have keys too (they didn't as they had booked individual beds) I 'unpacked'. I have to use the word loosely, given the set up of the room. There were two sets of bunkbeds opposite each other, plus two heavy chairs. I decided I would put my stuff on one, and use the other at night to barricade the door - another fact you need to remember for the fun incident coming later in the story if you keep reading. There was also a rail with dozens of coat hangers at one end of the room, which seemed a little redundant - whoever goes hostelling and hangs up their stuff? That was all the room had, apart from a sort of skylight. There was no window, but the wall at the back, which boarded the bathroom, was not entirely opaque and the room lit up whenever anyone turned on the bathroom light. There were no lockers in the room - if I'd even considered agreeing to the orgy that night, my mind would now certainly have been made up in opposition to it. This was something I had been aware of from previous reviews, but never thought twice about given my private room booking. The hostel has wifi throughout, though who would seriously take a laptop to somewhere that doesn't have lockers?
I came out to see if I could pay Ricardo the $27 but in pesos. Did I not have dollars? he asked. No, I replied, what with, oh, not being American, and having spent the last 9 months working in Mexico earning Pesos... So onto the computer we went to work out the exchange rate (using Xe - I must stress he wasn't trying to con me). It came to about 380 pesos, at which point he said 300 pesos would do, and I could use the 80 pesos for dinner. This I must admit was very nice of him, though I perhaps wasn't as grateful as I should have been, as I absent mindedly pondered whether 80 pesos would even buy you a full meal in SMA. Clearly I pondered this out loud since the reply was a definite yes. Pulling out a piece of paper, he began to draw me a map of places he could recommend. Unfortunately the main one was a Sushi place, which this vegetarian chica wouldn't even go in, but I appreciated the sentiment. He then asked if I would be going out drinking tonight. I declined, which was apparently the wrong answer, though I really was not in the mood to get into a discussion on the idiocy of going to visit a colonial town for less than 24 hours and spending a good chunk of that time drinking / sleeping / being grumpily hungover. Instead, I opted for the cinema, which Ricardo offered to accompany me to. I left it with a "Vamos a ver" (we'll see) and then decided that the 30 seconds he spent upstairs were the exact moment I needed to go out, and left on my own, at a slight run... He seemed a nice enough man, just a little keen (he added me on Facebook while I was unpacking, for crying out loud). I have had this problem before in hostels: there seems to be an assumption that just because you like to stay somewhere cheap and travel by yourself, you also want to socialise with lots of new 'friends'. I don't.
Later that night, I returned to an empty hostel - the heavy front door was no longer a problem since I now had a key. I had a shower in the most homely hostel bathroom I've ever encountered (think pretty porcelain and a massive space, with no cubicles in sight). While this was nice given that I had the hostel to myself, I wouldn't really have wanted to be there on a busy morning when everyone waiting for the loo, for a shower, or to brush their teeth, had to queue up for just the one room. There were other bathrooms like this in the hostel, but this was the one assigned to the rooms in my bit of the building, and other rooms' residents would have been fighting over the other ones.
The boys' bags were still lying where he had dumped them, in the lounge. I barricaded myself into my room with the heavy chair against the door, and fell asleep reasonably easily though the mattress was far too soft - it wasn't until the morning that I realised the one on the other bottom bunk was a brand new orthopaedic thing, and I should just had slept there instead. Something else peculiar about the bunks - they didn't have ladders of any kind, either integral or additional to the frames. Who knows how you were supposed to get up to the top bunks, apart from maybe climbing on the chairs I thought were for putting your stuff on / blocking the door with.
At about 3am I was woken by a loud and constant banging on my door. I ignored this for a good 10 minutes then reluctantly got up and pulled on my jeans (reason #3 for not wanting an orgy - I had not brought PJs and was sleeping in that day's top, and my knickers). I moved the heavy chair (which now, more than ever, I was glad I had shoved against the door with its slightly flimsy lock). It was one of the boys, who had just returned to find his stuff in the lounge. He was American, but for some reason (hey, it was 3am) I decided to speak Spanish with him and the Frenchie who had appeared from the double room (my double room!) across the corridor. This meant things took a while. American Boy tried to ring Ricardo but there was no answer, so he stole one of the 3 spare mattresses in my room, pulled it off the bunk, and slept in the lounge. He was still there when I left that morning, though there was no sight of his friends. What was weird was that apparently he had been drinking with Ricardo that night (having clearly started drinking before I arrived at 4.30pm) and Ricardo had told him there was a bed for him. We never did work out if he thought I'd change my mind if asked again in the middle of the night, or if there was another dorm somewhere that he meant. Needless to say, neither of us was very happy, though I think I came off a little as the baddie for not being the nice, compassionate, please-join-me-for-a-3am-orgy kind of British girl.
In the morning, I fled. I left the key in the door (there was nothing else to do with it, as not a single staff member was in sight), picked up my bag and just left. I wasn't feeling especially comfortable at that point, and just wanted to go and hole up in a nice little breakfast restaurant.
I thought this was a funny kind of hostel, with both plusses and minuses. There was no curfew (plus) and a well equipped kitchen (plus), and it definitely didn't have a big, hostel feel. During the week they have activities too - like free salsa lessons, and soccer practice. However the lack of staff on duty (minus) was worrying - what if you had some emergency the right side of midnight, while everyone and their dog was still out drinking? Equally, for a medium sized hostel, I expected a little more in the way of local information - leaflets, maps etc - and I wouldn't have minded a book-swap or similar as I was so desperate by this point that I was reading the boring guide book pages on the history of Mexico I'd successfully avoided in the many months since I got here.
For backpackers travelling on mass, or those who don't mind shared, mixed-sex dorms, this place is probably not too terribly bad, though I still think it is expensive. Based on my experience, it I would not recommend the place when there are a couple of others in the town you could take a chance with. All I wanted was a cheap, basic place for a night of uninterrupted sleep, which you'd think would be simple enough to accomplish. Unfortunately it wasn't.
Iron House Hostel
Colegio Militar 17D
San Miguel de Allende
NB It is useful to remember the Colonia (neighbourhood) as well as the street since taxi drivers like to double check with you, and not knowing it I was there saying "Hmm, yeah, probably, sure" in my best non-committal Spanish.
Also, I'm an old fashioned girl, and though it may not be everyone's definition, anything more than 2 people in a room is an orgy in my head, especially when those people are strangers.
Located a short distance from the centre of town.